Ballistic Protective Blankets

       Ballistic Protective Blankets (BPB)s are needed to protect soldiers in defensive positions from indirect fires.  When I was at the National Training Center (NTC), we had to have 3 layers of sand bags over our holes, or the occupants were assessed as casualties.  This was tremendously time and resource consuming, often with little benefit as we were often bypassed without ever being engaged.  Instead of wasting so much time and energy on digging in with overhead cover, BPBs (made from spectra/kevlar or that new Israeli stuff) should be delivered instead of the Class IV barrier materials (e.g. sandbags and timber).  The soldier support command has already developed BPBs for protection of exposed equipment/munitions. 

     This new BPB (below) only weighs 1.2 lbs per square foot, meaning a 4'x 8' piece suitable for protecting one soldier would only weigh 32 lbs!  Not something you'd want to hump all day, but a helluva a lot better than a sheet of plywood, 4"x4"s and 27 full sand bags.  You would also have the capability to protect exposed soldiers from indirect fire where digging is impossible, like solid rock, rocky soil or frozen ground.  Frequently at NTC, soil suitability for digging was as much a consideration as tactical situation in determining where we made defensive positions.  Protection "to standard" fighting positions with 3 layers of sand bags takes around 12 hours on a good day, these blankets could be passed out in less than an hour.

       Traditional overhead cover usually results in "bumps" in terrain that are easily detectable, but BPBs would easily blend into the terrain.  Defense prep time is reduced and the time soldiers are exposed to detection.  Mylar could be incorporated to reduce the infra red/heat signature from overhead surveillance. Finally,  Class IV materials, which include 4'x8' sheets of  3/4" plywood, several 4"x4" posts or U shaped pickets and a couple dozen sand  bags per fighting position, could all be replaced by a single BPB per man. 

       Soldiers that aren't tired from digging march better.  Also, you would reduce the tendency of staying in a defensive position in spite of early detection/contact because you have so much energy invested there that you stay put, even though it makes more sense to move.  Its a great tactic to move from where you were during the day to a new location as soon as it gets dark, but we never do because its so difficult to dig in again.  BPBs would reduce that tendency, and would be easier to move if you knew your men could simply pick up their overhead cover and take it with them to alternate or supplemental positions. 

     Mounted soldiers sticking up out of cargo hatches could supplement their ballistic protection with BPBs.  Along with the BPB, develop a portable weapon shield for a hasty fighting position (12" deep full body length)   We should avoid a defensive postures, but when we have to, we should have rapid effective protection that doesn't exhaust resources.  This is do-able, wouldn't be all that expensive, and would really improve the battlefield survivability of our soldiers.

                                                                Reid Smith


Ed.  I would hang BPBs or "Kevlar blankets" on the sides of each 5-ton truck to provide some protection, especially for towed artillery units.  Grunts could take them off if they need them for defensive positions, and the trucks would grab new ones when they go to the rear.   In urban combat where speed is less important, armored vehicles could wrap themselves in armored blankets for additional protection.  In areas where mines are a problem, trucks, HMMWVs and APCs could use them to line their floors.  I would also have heavy "clothes racks" on which soldiers could hang the blankets for vertical protection, which is needed for towed artillery and tents in forward areas.

      Since the Army spends millions of dollars on wood each year so realistic defensive positions can be built, BPBs would pay for themselves in a few years.  Finally, as the Army seeks to lighten its logistical tail, BPBs are much, much smaller and lighter than wood, not to mention that they are fireproof, waterproof, and reusable for decades.


Rigid Overhead Cover is Essential

      I feel that your position on the use of Ballistic Protective Blankets (BPB) is not completely thought through.   For one, the use of the BPB as top cover only (I am making the assumption that it is used as exclusive top cover as you propose to eliminate the other materials such as sandbags and plywood) would not be effective versus large concussive blasts from large bore weapons that rely on large explosive payloads to work.  Being a non-rigid and light (in weight) barrier it would be easily moved away by the force of said blast, it cannot take a direct hit from (and I am guessing here) a medium sized explosive round ( for arguments sake lets use a 60mm mortar round) where as the previous position constructed emplacement (using sandbags and plywood) would probably survive such attacks (at least be much more likely to, there is always room for extreme examples to the contrary).

     With this being said, I am not saying the idea of reducing the visibility of the fighting position has no merit.  I feel that a 1/2" piece of steel (20.4 pounds per square foot at 1/2", I think) would better serve as part of the barrier.  The weight would actually work for you in keeping the position being removed by near misses from larger explosions and would be more likely to survive larger caliber explosive hits.  There would be an additional advantage in the fact that lighter vehicles and possibly even heavy armored vehicles could physically run over the position and still not collapse it.  With this being said I fully concede that this piece of steel is not man-portable, but could still be transported on the 5-ton trucks, Humvees, and APCs.

                                                                     Rich Gozynya

Ed. Those are good points, but logistics must be considered.  Sandbagged bunkers are much stronger, but the chance that adequate Class IV material will be delivered to a forward unit whenever it needs to dig in during fluid combat situations is unlikely.  Wood is bulky and difficult to reuse.  However, perhaps a lightweight, rigid kevlar/plastic overhead cover plate (or steel plate as you suggest) would be useful, especially if it had short legs which could fold out like a card table to hold it one foot above the fighting hole.

Don't ignore anti-tank mines

      I must strongly disagree with your recommendation that ballistic blankets could be used for mine protection.  I have worked on vehicular mine protection since the early 1990s, deploying to Somalia to install mine protection kits on US Hummers and 5-ton trucks.  We have done extensive testing, there is no technical doubt that ballistic blankets provide no significant personnel protection against the actual mine blast threat.  In fact, very few anti-vehicle blast mines have less than 12 pounds of TNT.  Indeed, the Russian-made TM-62 has about 16.5 pounds and is one of the most common anti-vehicle mines in the world.  

      Any military vehicle or retrofit kit designed only to protect against anti-personnel mines is ignoring the proven threat.  In practice, the use of ballistic blankets may actually be detrimental because they give our soldiers a false sense of security.  Given that mines in Vietnam accounted for 80% of US tank losses, 79% of APC losses, and 46% of truck losses, the US would be wise to consider the actual nature of this threat, especially since mines are today becoming one of the asymmetric "weapons of choice" in many places such as the Middle East and Chechnya.  It must be noted that the South Africans made tremendous strides in the protection of their soldiers from mine strikes by specifically designing mine protection into their vehicles.  This reduced personnel casualties on vehicles that detonated mines from about 43% to 4% while virtually eliminating KIAs.  If we are serious about countering this threat, this is a proven approach.

     A mine expert recently told me that shortly after the signing of the Dayton Accord in 1995, mine and direct fire protection was sought for soft-skinned (tactical) vehicles operating in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. A number of armor kits were produced and installed to address this need, but insufficient funding was made available to equip all vehicles. The Ballistic Protective Blanket (BPB) was conceived as an economical means of providing some minimal level of protection to vehicles not equipped with armor kits. The BPB protects the vehicle floor against small fragments generated by grenades or unexploded submunitions, and in this role is superior to sandbags in area of coverage and on a per weight basis.

      The danger associated with using these blankets is the belief that the blankets will provide protection against anti-vehicular landmines.  This false belief causes soldiers to be less cautious because they believe that they are protected, and leaders not to demand equipment for their troops because they think the current equipment is adequate.  In fact the BPB's are less effective than sandbags at mitigating the effects of these anti-vehicular landmines. The ballistic nylon "blankets" contain large 2.5mm thick steel plates which are not firmly attached to the floor and can become dangerous secondary missiles during a mine blast. Overall, where anti-vehicular landmines are a threat, these blankets are a poor, and probably hazardous substitute for tactical vehicle armor kits.

                                                                                          Bill Schneck

                                                            LTC Engineer Corps Virginia Army National Guard